Ladybugs and marigolds can keep garden pests at bay

| April 2, 2015 | 0 Comments
MARIGOLDS and tomatoes make a beautiful and a famous couple.

MARIGOLDS and tomatoes make a beautiful and a famous couple.

Spring vegetable gardening means delicious homegrown food for you… and for backyard pests.

Be prepared: if you plant it, they will come. Slugs, ants, aphids, caterpillars, spiders, mites, they don’t even wait for tomatoes to ripen before they sink their teeth in for a fresh meal.

It’s hard to grow food without inviting insects but there are tricks that don’t require toxic pesticides or giving your plants a daily nitpick.

Start your garden off on the right foot and you may not lose much of your crop to insects this year.

Companion plants

Ever had a partner that was perfect and complemented your life in every way possible?  One of those “you complete me” relationships?  Of course not, because that only happens in the movies. But you’ll be amazed to learn just how many plants have a soilmate in real life.

Tomatoes and marigolds are one famous couple. The flower and its roots deter worms and pests that can render the tomato fruit unfit for even the cheapest bottle of ketchup.

Aliums which includes onions, garlic, leeks and chives have odors that repel aphids and beetles like spaghetti aglio e olio repels a vampire. Plant them in the same bed with Brassicas like cabbage, bok choy and broccoli to keep the leaves from being gnawed.

Then there are trap crops like clover and chervil.  These plants are the ultimate take-a-bullet-for-you romantic. They attract pests and, thus, sacrifice themselves to save the main crop from decimation.

Plants don’t use Tinder, but rather a “Companion Planting Chart” (an easy Google search).  Based on intimate scientific facts like “how deep do your roots grow” or “will you leave all your nitrogen to me when you die,” these charts make it easy to set-up plants with each other. Gone are the days of blind dating and awkward rejections once they’ve gone to a raised bed together.

Last call for slugs

Slugs can destroy a garden almost overnight. They eat several times their own body weight in a single day.  Even the parts of the plant not eaten are often left with an unpalatable slimy trail. You can buy all sorts of toxic traps at the hardware store, but why not make your own deathtraps?

Slugs are attracted to fermented yeast, so they’ll climb over hill and over dale for a sip of brewski.  Set a beer trap out at night and you’ll have drunk, dead slugs come sunrise.

To set the trap: pour any malted beverage into a shallow container or plastic cup, then tip it slightly so the soil and the edge of the container are almost even. The beer should be within in an inch or so of the top.  Slugs go in for a nightcap and don’t come out.

Beneficial bugs

Ladybugs. Your kids love them because they’re adorable, and your plants will thank you for getting all the aphids off their backs. Ladybugs are carnivorous and love to eat bugs that eat leaves. This means the more food in ladybug bellies, the less holes in your lettuce.

Vegetables gardens thrive with ladybugs, and the great thing is that you can buy them!  (Then pray they don’t all fly away.) Create a hospitable environment and the beneficial insects will make a landing instead of a flyover. Certain herbs like dill, caraway and fennel provide a great runway.

If your garden is still overrun with creatures, and you have to spray, use something that contains only recognizable ingredients like garlic, rosemary or plant oils.  Remember, what you spray on the plant is what you’re eating later.

By Renee Ridgeley, California Greenin’ columnist

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Category: Real Estate

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